“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Review: ALL THINGS NICE by Sheila Bugler

I reviewed Sheila Bugler’s ALL THINGS NICE (Brandon) in the Irish Examiner last week. It ran a lot like this:
The title of Sheila Bugler’s third book alludes to the fact that the crime novel is the adult version of the child’s fairytale and cautionary fable. Set in London, and featuring the dogged DI Ellen Kelly of Lewisham CID, All Things Nice is a police procedural rooted in the nursery rhyme that warns us boys are composed of slugs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails.
  The story opens with the murder of Keiran Burton, who is discovered stabbed to death in a laneway on the morning after Charlotte Gleeson celebrates her birthday party. Keiran, we discover, is not a particularly nice man: he is a womaniser, a hypocrite, a leech on Charlotte’s daughter Freya and a man so morally degenerate he sleeps with Charlotte. Not that Charlotte is entirely innocent in the matter: emotionally estranged from her husband Nick, and an alcoholic prone to making bad decisions when it comes to men, Charlotte’s loneliness drove her into Keiran’s arms. Now, suffering the amnesia of a crippling hangover, Charlotte is terrified that she might be the killer. She argued with Keiran, she knows that; worse, Keiran wouldn’t be the first person Charlotte had ever stabbed …
  It should be an open-and-shut case for DI Kelly, but Keiran Burton isn’t the only sleazy man in All Things Nice. There is Nick Gleeson, the successful but self-absorbed restauranteur who is more interested in his current extra-marital fling than in comforting his bereaved daughter Freya; and Pete Cooper, a violent gangland kingpin and single father who has an unhealthy obsession with the love life of his own daughter, Cosima.
  DI Kelly tracks the slimy trails of these slugs and snails through the leafy boroughs of affluent South London according to the conventions of the police procedural, but the central investigation is woven around Kelly’s complicated personal life. Recently widowed, and raising her children alone, she is haunted by grief and further wounded by her rejection by her birth mother, Noreen. Not that Kelly allows her personal difficulties to impact on her professional life: she is every bit as self-confident as Nick Gleeson, and brutally violent as Pete Cooper, when the occasion demands. Remembering the face Billy Dunston, the man who killed her husband, she falls asleep smiling as she recalls how ‘she held the gun against his head and pulled the trigger.’ That vigilante streak notwithstanding, Kelly can still tell herself that, “The reason she found it so difficult to fit in was because there weren’t many people as bloody good at being a detective as she was.”
  The plot doesn’t spring too many surprises, as Ellen Kelly uncovers ‘bits and pieces of truth hidden amongst the lies everyone was telling,’ but what gives All Things Nice real bite as the story progresses are the growing similarities between DI Kelly and the men at the heart of her investigation (Kelly, sensitive to slights real and imagined, would likely be outraged to be told this). Indeed, all the main players, Kelly included, are struggling to cope with damaged childhoods and the life-long consequences of wounds inflicted on impressionable minds: oddly, it’s only the murder victim, Keiran, who doesn’t benefit from an extended backstory that might allow us to empathise with him. Nick Gleeson and Pete Cooper are portrayed as lurid rogues for most of the novel, but it’s only in the final stages that we begin to understand why they behave as they do. Their actions may be foul, and the reader understands that the genre’s conventions demand that such men cannot be allowed to go unchecked if society is to thrive, but their reasons for acting as they do are the stuff of classical tragedy, and resonate long after the book is put away. ~ Declan Burke
  This review was first published in the Irish Examiner.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Readings: STACCATO at Toner’s of Baggot Street

The Florida wing of the Irish crime writing community – i.e., Michael Haskins – gets in touch to say that he will be reading from his latest novel at Staccato in Toner’s on Baggot Street, Dublin, on June 29th. To wit:
  For more on Michael Haskins, clickety-click here

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Publication: UNWILLING EXECUTIONER by Andrew Pepper

Andrew Pepper, the Belfast-based author of the Pyke mystery series, has just published the non-fiction title UNWILLING EXECUTIONER (Oxford University Press), which is aimed at ‘students and scholars of crime fiction; those with an interest in the history of crime and policing and the relationship between literature and the state.’ To wit:
What gives crime fiction its distinctive shape and form? What makes it such a compelling vehicle of social and political critique? UNWILLING EXECUTIONER argues that the answer lies in the emerging genre’s complex and intimate relationship with the bureaucratic state and modern capitalism, and the contradictions that ensue once the state assumes control of the criminal justice system. This study offers a dramatic new interpretation of the genre’s emergence and evolution over a three hundred year period and as a genuinely transnational phenomenon.
  From its roots in the tales of criminality circulated widely in Paris and London in the early eighteenth century, this book examines the extraordinary richness, diversity and complexity of the genre’s subsequent thematizations of crime and policing - moving from France and Britain and from continental Europe and the United States to other parts of the globe. In doing so it offers new ways of reading established crime novelists like Gaboriau, Doyle, Hammett, and Simenon, beyond their national contexts and an impulse to characterize their work as either straightforwardly "radical" or "conservative". It also argues for the centrality of writers like Defoe, Gay, Godwin, Vidocq, Morrison, and more recently Manchette, Himes, and Sjöwall and Wahlöö to a project where crime and policing are rooted, and shown to be rooted, in the social and economic conditions of their time. These are all deeply political writers even if their novels exhibit no interest in directly promoting political causes or parties. The result is an agile, layered, and far-reaching account of the crime story’s ambivalent relationship to the justice system and its move to complicate our understanding of what crime is and how society is policed and for whose benefit.
  Sounds like the proverbial cracker. For more, clickety-click here

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Brain Noodles: Debbie Wiseman’s Wolf Hall; Ed O’Loughlin’s MINDS OF WINTER; Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next

I really enjoyed the BBC’s mini-series adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall last year, one of the most enjoyable aspects being Debbie Wiseman’s score. At the time – the soundtrack wasn’t available until after the final episode screened – it sounded as if Wiseman had created a Tudor soundscape using instruments of the period. Listening to the score in its entirety (Wiseman conducting the Locrian Ensemble of London), you realise that Wiseman certainly pays homage to the Tudor period (The Scholar in particular, with its harpsichord and vielle violin) but that overall the score is a modern piece that is rooted in, but not shackled by, history, musical or otherwise. It’s a mixture of melancholy (Still I Love Him), bittersweet (Anna Regina) and prophetically doom-laden (Master of Phantoms) pieces, with Prophecies and Dreams one of the stand-out tracks as a hauntingly tender piece:
  Underpinning it all are the insistent, sinuous strings of the first track, Wolf Hall (the theme is most fully reprised in the final offering, the mischievously titled Entirely Beloved), the overall effect beautifully evoking the arch-Machiavellian Thomas Cromwell and his relentless scheming.
  Ed O’Loughin’s MINDS OF WINTER (riverrun) is easily the most enjoyable novel I’ve read this year in terms of narrative imagination – the story, which is rooted in the disappearance of the Franklin expedition, which was trying to find the Northwest Passage, in 1845. A veritable Russian doll of a narrative structure takes us to South and North Poles and quite a few places in between, it revels in its deliciously old-fashioned approach to storytelling: O’Loughlin has his tongue firmly stuffed into his cheek when he has one character complain to Jack London that the author’s baroque style has passed its sell-by date:
“It’s a new century, you know; that gothic, sort of supernatural thing, is going out of style. Everything is very plain and modern now.”
  Undeterred, O’Loughlin presses on with tales of adventure and derring-do, of spies and outlaws and epic treks to the Poles, of naval voyages that would do Patrick O’Brian proud, all of it detailed in crunchy, evocative prose, such as when the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen finds himself poised on the cusp of a life-changing decision:
It was a warm autumn evening in Madeira, the sun gleaming on the harbour and the breeze soft in the trees. He could stay here forever, dissolved in this air. But some tiny flaw in the fabric of the universe, some original sin in space and time, determined that he was doomed to exist, to be one thing or another.
  MINDS OF WINTER will be published on August 25th. If bravura storytelling is your thing, you won’t go far wrong here
  Movies-wise, it’s a dull time of the year, this early-season slump as we wait for the summer to ignite. This week’s most enjoyable film was the latest documentary from Michael Moore – he may be predictable, but he’s always watchable. To wit:
Where to Invade Next (12A) is the latest documentary from Michael Moore, the iconoclastic filmmaker who delights in pointing up America’s failings. The idea behind this film is that Moore himself is a one-man ‘army’, invading various countries – most of them European – in order to steal their best ideas and take them back to the United States to cure its ills. The irascible Moore is in good form here, pretending to be horrified at the very notion of paid vacations and maternity leave, free college education, a 36-hour working week, the decriminalisation of illegal drugs and women taking charge of the political system, all of which makes Europe sound like a veritable utopia (i.e., one many Europeans may not recognise). It’s a Europe viewed through rose-tinted lenses, of course, and Moore does make the point that he is in the business of picking flowers, not weeds, on his travels, but the presenter has an engaging talent for making serious points while employing his trademark blend of chutzpah and black comedy. As always with Moore, the film isn’t so much a balanced documentary as it is a polemic, a gentle broadside on behalf of the liberal agenda. His breezy, irreverent Everyman style isn’t to everyone’s taste, but Moore should be cherished as a unique filmmaker, as provocative as he is entertaining. ****
  The other movies reviewed this week in the Irish Examiner are Melissa McCarthy’s The Boss and Mother’s Day, starring Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts.